Deceased Democrat Congressman Wins New Jersey Primary

Jack Hadfield

A deceased man won the Democratic nomination for another term in the House on Tuesday, securing the seat by a comfortable margin.

Donald Payne Jr. suffered a heart attack on April 6, resulting in the politician entering a coma from which he never emerged. By April 24, he was declared dead at Newark’s Beth Israel Medical Centre, aged 65.

Perhaps unfortunately for the New Jersey Democratic Party, Payne Jr. was set to run unopposed on June 4 in the Democratic primary representing New Jersey’s 10th Congressional District. Payne Jr. had held the seat since 2012.

By the time of his passing at the end of April, the deadline to file to run in the Democratic primary had already expired, meaning that it was legally impossible for anyone else to throw their hat into the ring in the scheduled primary.

With the New Jersey Democrats not declaring a new candidate for the primary election on Tuesday, the late representative easily won the primary race for his now vacant seat. It is likely that some voters filled out their mail-in ballots before his death, or that they were simply unaware of his death to begin with.

Phil Murphy, the Democrat Governor of New Jersey, last month declared that there would be a special election in September in an effort to elect someone to serve the remainder of Payne Jr.’s term in office. In order to select the candidate, another primary election is set to take place on July 16 for the open seat.

However, state law puts the power for the candidate selection for the general election up to the members of the party county committees in which the district is located. The chairs for Essex, Hudson, and Union counties must now call a convention by late August in order to choose a candidate. This could take place after a special primary, but the committee is not required to back the person who wins.

The 10th congressional district, which covers most of the city of Newark, parts of Jersey City, and some suburban areas, is one of the most Democratic in the country.

Payne Jr. received around 85% of the vote each term since he was first elected, meaning that the Democrat who succeeds Payne Jr. is likely to be able to stay in Congress for as long as they so choose.

Payne Jr. took the seat in a similar way from his own father, Donald Payne Sr., who was the first African American man to serve in Congress from New Jersey. In March of 2012, Payne Sr. passed away aged 77, with his son winning the special primary to fill his seat and the subsequent election that November.

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